Pros and Cons of Becoming an Emergency Room Nurse
Emergency room nurses are registered nurses who deal with patients entering a hospital or healthcare facility's emergency department. Check out the pros and cons of an emergency room nursing career to make an informed career decision.
|Pros of an Emergency Room Nursing Career|
|Above average earnings ($68,303 median salary as of September 2015)**|
|High-growth field (19% expected employment increase from 2012-2022)*|
|Minimum education of two years*|
|Satisfaction of helping ill or injured patients*|
|Cons of an Emergency Room Nursing Career|
|Potentially dangerous work environment*|
|Possibility of evening, nighttime or weekend hours*|
|Physical stress from standing and moving patients*|
|Licensing and continuing education requirements*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com.
Essential Career Info
As a registered nurse who works in an emergency room, your job can vary greatly from day to day. Working at the triage desk, you assess and prioritize patients' conditions, helping to keep an orderly flow through the department. Under the supervision and direction of a doctor, you administer treatments to admitted patients according to their prescribed plans. You may set up IVs, collect specimens for testing, interpret X-rays and speak with family members about patients' conditions.
Salary Info and Career Prospects
Salary.com reported in September 2015 that emergency room nurses made a median salary of $68,303. The BLS projected that employment of registered nurses would increase by 19% from 2012-2022. During this time, job growth may be spurred by an expanding elderly population and an increase in the number of people who have insurance. In addition, the Honor Society of Nursing reports a nursing shortage in countries around the world, including the U.S.; this may also contribute to employment growth. Job prospects should be particularly good for graduates of bachelor's programs.
Education and Licensing Requirements
Three educational paths exist for aspiring registered nurses: a diploma, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree program. Community colleges and vocational schools offer diploma programs and associate's programs in nursing that require 2-3 years of study. Most Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs are available at colleges and universities and take four years to complete. The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission accredits all three types of programs as well as graduate degree programs. Each type of program combines classroom learning with supervised clinical experience and may qualify you for professional licensure.
After you complete a nursing program, you must take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses as required by federal law. Other requirements for registered nurses vary by state, so be sure to check with your state's board of nursing for specific rules and regulations. After obtaining initial licensure, you may be required to maintain it with continuing education credits. These additional opportunities for learning can keep you up to date with the latest medical treatments and technologies.
What Employers Are Looking For
When hiring emergency room nurses, employers often prefer that you have some experience in an emergency room setting. You also need to have an active, unrestricted RN license in the state in which you apply; CPR and advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) certifications may be required as well. Check out these summaries of job postings open in March 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:
- A medical center in Georgia was looking to hire an emergency room nurse with Georgia licensure, EKG interpretation skills and one year of emergency room experience for day, night and weekend shifts.
- A hospital in Nevada was searching for a critical care and emergency room nurse with current licensure and great customer service skills who could work part-time night shifts.
- An acute care center in Texas was looking for an emergency room nurse with current licensure and two years of emergency room experience.
How to Stand Out
While licensure is mandatory, certification for nurses is a voluntary process that can demonstrate your knowledge and ability in a specific field of nursing. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing offers the Certified Emergency Nurse credential. You are eligible to take the certification exam if you have an unrestricted RN license, but at least two years of experience in an emergency department is recommended.
Earn Your BSN
Although you can enter the field of nursing with two years of education and a passing score on the licensing exam, many employers prefer to hire candidates with bachelor's degrees. A BSN may also help you move into leadership roles more quickly. If you decide you want to become a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist, you will be able to apply to graduate programs with a bachelor's degree already complete.
If you'd like to work in an emergency setting but want to be closer to the front lines, consider becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT). EMTs are first responders, traveling to the site where medical assistance is needed. Most of your work is done outside of a healthcare facility or in transit to a hospital or clinic. EMT-Basic training consists of roughly 110 hours of classroom and hands-on experience, after which you can apply for licensure. The BLS reported in May 2011 that EMTs and paramedics made a median annual wage of about $31,000, which is relatively low. However, the number of employed EMTs and paramedics is expected to grow by 33%, so job prospects in this field may be slightly better compared to nursing.
If you'd like to work as a nurse but aren't sure about the emergency room setting, there are many other areas of specialization available. For example, some nurses focus on a specific area of the body, like the cardiovascular system, or a patient group, such as children. During rotations in nursing school, you can decide what best fits your personal style. The BLS reported in May 2011 that registered nurses made a median annual wage of about $66,000.